With candles lighted in the darkened sanctuary of Emmanuel Church at last night, Atalante’s singers clothed in the style of Caravaggio assumed sung tableaux vivants in classical and Biblical laments from 17th-century Rome.
Atalante is directed by Erin Headley and named after the inventor of the lirone, an instrument specifically associated with the musical lament tradition. Lamentably, Headley took a tumble earlier in the week, as Stephen Stubbs announced before the concert, and was unable to perform this concert. David Morris filled in on viola da gamba so that this concert could go on. We all wish Headley well and hope she and her lirone return soon to offer us music from this lament tradition on its intended instrument.
The concert opened with Misereris omnium, Domine from Domenico Mazzocchi’s 1664 Sacrae concertationes. Nadine Balbeisi (soprano) and Theodora Baka (mezzo-soprano) gave a heartfelt reading of this plea for mercy, with the collaboration of a sensitive continuo ensemble (Siobhán Armstrong, triple harp; Elizabeth Kenny, chitarrone; David Morris, viola da gamba; Kristian Bezuidenhout, harpsichord). Armstrong and Bezuidenhout then gave an airing to Luigi Rossi’s instrumental Passacaglia dell’ Seigneur Louigi and perfectly captured the pacing of this music—slow, yet not overly so. I was struck by the tempo modulations in this lament and found myself wondering if that is a recurring trait of this musical tradition. Rossi’s Spars’il crine e lagrimosa (Lament of Zaïda) followed, sung with tenderness and anguish. Marazzoli’s Già celebrato havea la Regina di Caria (Lament of Artemisia) was a study in mourning from another time and while the narrative (and semi-staged presentation) might strike us as more akin to the works of Edward Gorey, the music remains carefully structured. The performance was mannered while retaining the depth of feeling of a lament. Marazzoli’s Cadute erano al fine (Lament of the aged Helen of Troy) saw both Balbeisi and Baka join together to perform this vanitas-cantata, one singing the role of the aged Helen while the other served as narrator; both combined to sing the final duet which delivers the music’s message about the ephemerality of youth and beauty.
An instrumental interlude reset the program: Marc’Antonio Pasqualini’s Perchè dolce Bambino. The ensemble performed this in a style simultaneously playful and stately. Next, Rossi’s Pender non prima vide (Tears of Mary Magdalene) which presented both mannered restraint and passionate lament. The program concluded with Carissimi’s Plorate, filii Israel, a lament of Jephtha’s daughter which captured the pleasure in lamentation, or at least lamentation music. Throughout this program the credo of delectare et docere (to delight and to teach) shone through (well, as much as the sanctuary’s dimness allowed any literal shining to occur). This program seemingly took its title from the text of Carissimi’s lament; the Latinist in me really must wonder if the program should not have been entitled “in carmine doloris” as Carissimi’s text has it (which is more classical Latin than the given title), although the meaning is approximately the same—in a sad song. The only sad thing about this midnight concert was the absence of Headley and her lirone.